After the recent entry describing ten highlights of my visit to Istanbul, I thought I would add some balance by mentioning too a few low points of that visit. However, Istanbul-lovers shouldn’t worry. None of these low points concern the city itself. Neither do they concern the city’s inhabitants. Rather, they’re all to do with the tourists whom I met there.
School parties. The day I entered the Blue Mosque, I was unfortunate enough to find myself in the middle of a throng of pubescent and very noisy schoolkids – Dutch ones I think. (Accordingly, when we all sat down in an entry chamber to remove our shoes, I was engulfed in a toxic cloud of pubescent, trainer-induced foot odour.) Meanwhile, there were dozens of parties of school-uniformed teenagers making their way around the archaeological museum at Topkapi Palace. The girls yakked incessantly, the boys arsed about, and all of them rattled through the exhibition rooms, past the exhibits, like strings of characters in a speeded-up Benny Hill sketch.
It makes me wonder what the point is of sending schoolchildren, especially teenagers, to see anything that’s deemed to be of cultural interest. If there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that they won’t be interested in it. And that’s because only one thing exists that youngsters that age are interested in, which is themselves. But nonetheless, their schools still send them to these places in droves, and their sheer numbers and their endless adolescent jabber are guaranteed to drive all other visitors to distraction.
And that’s the end of my cranky-old-man diatribe for today.
The cruise ship at Istanbul Modern. The café-bar at the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art is fiendishly expensive – 14 Turkish lira for a glass of lemonade! – but diners can console themselves with the wonderful view that the café’s balcony grants them over the adjacent quayside and a good stretch of the Bosporus. Unfortunately, when I walked in there with a friend, a gigantic cruise ship chose that moment to manoeuvre alongside the quay and berth. If someone had suddenly and magically erected a 100-metre-high wall on the quay, the view couldn’t have been blocked any more effectively.
My friend told me that all the cruise passengers looked like Americans – the sort of Americans who, back in America, drive huge sports utility vehicles that hog the roads. So I suppose it was appropriate that they sneaked in there and hogged the Bosporus with their big bloody ship.
Antipodean overload. Don’t get me wrong. I like Australians. I have to – a whole wing of my family consists of born-and-bred Sydney-ites. And most of the Australians I saw in Istanbul, who were presumably visiting because of the Gallipoli connection, seemed reasonably decent and well-behaved.
I’ll make an exception, though, for a group of Aussies whom I observed one evening boozing on the terrace of the Sultan Bar, around the corner from the hotel I was staying in. They were apparently engaged in a drinking game where, as everyone got more intoxicated, the penalties for losing a round became ever more outrageous. One participant had to go into the middle of the road outside and perform a belly dance. Two more people had to borrow umbrellas from a pair of bemused passers-by and do a Singing in the Rain dance routine, again in the middle of the road. A whole squad of them had to do multiple press-ups – you guessed it, in the middle of the road. As the evening progressed, the close encounters they were having with the passing traffic grew closer and worryingly closer.
However, what really got to me after an evening or two was the music pouring out of the loudspeakers at the Sultan Bar and out of those at the Cheers Bar on the opposite side of the street. To keep their Australian patrons happy, one bar would play Down Under by Men at Work, while the other would play Beds are Burning by Midnight Oil – for, it seemed, hours at a time.
So come on, Australia, buck up! Write some new songs, please, so that we can get some musical variety at the pubs and hostels around the world catering for your backpackers!
General tourist dorks. There were some silly and annoying people lurking around Istanbul’s tourist attractions. The worst ones were probably a pair of guys in front of the Blue Mosque who were wearing baseball caps and red sweat-tops with – oh no – Tunisia emblazoned across them. One guy was standing up on a bench, affecting frankly stupid-looking taekwondo poses with the gorgeous and venerable mosque in the background, while his mate took photographs of him. Neither of them made good, street-credibility-enhancing ambassadors for the new democratic Tunisia.
The flight back to Tunis with Turkish Airlines. I praised the Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul, but I’m afraid I was less enthusiastic about the return trip. This was mainly because the plane was crowded with Tunisian shopaholics making their way home and they seemed to have brought the entire contents of the Grand Bazaar on board as hand luggage.